Have you ever considered eating insects? No, neither have we, except for that fly that took a dive into our mug of tea last week. There are 1,462 recorded edible species of insect out there and although it’s very rare in Europe and most of the first world, in many parts of the world insects are a vital part of the diet. In Thailand and Cambodia you can eat deep fried tarantula and in Indonesia you can buy salted dragonflies in coconut milk.
Sound appealing? Not to me, but to be fair, I’ve never tried it. There is some evidence that our ancestors all ate insects; coprolites (fossilised poo) have been found to contain insects, and certainly in the days before farming, when food was scare and droughts and famines were common you ate whatever you could. But some people believe that the western (that’s, Europe, USA, etc.) diets will move towards eating more insects over the next few generations as farming becomes more unsustainable and climates more unpredictable.
But why? Well, with the increase in human population combined with the increased consumption of meat per person (ask your grandparents how often they ate meat when they were your age) we have more and more environmental and animal welfare issues. Demand pushes for more intensive farming, and intensive farming is an ecological problem (let’s not get started on the animal welfare issues, but there’s plenty online if you want to find out more). This is not sustainable, and this is where insects come into it. They are very very high in protein and low in fat (therefore quite healthy – OK probably less so when you deep fry it like the example above, but glossing over that…). They are also very easy to farm with very little environmental impact (the energy intake to protein output ratio for beef is up to 54:1, compared to 4:1 for insects – what that means is that you need to use a lot less food to get the same amount of protein out of an insect than out of a cow) and as their nervous systems are less well evolved, welfare is not such an issue. Eating insects is the perfect solution, the only (but very large) problem with it is that we are not used to it, and many of us feel squeamish about it.
So we’re not saying that you should chow down on flies for the rest of your life, not at all. But we find in interesting to see how diets will have to modify in the future as human population expands. Personally, I think it would take a long time or a massive ecological disaster to push insects onto our plates here in Europe, so all we’re suggesting for now is that you look for sustainability in your food, maybe commit to a few vegetarian meals a week, buy meat and veg from local sources or try to plan meals so you don’t waste food. Being eco friendly really isn’t as hard as it may seem.
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Blog post by Linda Seward of Seward Technical Writing, providers of original science content.